Thursday 22 December 2022

Thursday 22nd December - The Wounded Cavalier

I regret nothing! I love today's painting so much I had a photographic recreation of it in my murder-mystery novel We Are Villains All. Loads of people get stabbed in that book! Here we go then, get a load of this gorgeous painting...

The Wounded Cavalier (1855) William Shakespeare Burton

Hurrah and stabs all round! I was delighted when I realised I could shove this painting into Stabvent as honestly, I would include this image in everything I do, given half the chance. There is a mystery over the painting as well as the obvious sexual tension between our Puritan lass and the frilly collared injured party.  Is he going to die? (yes, probably, he's not looking too well...) What has he been up to? Why is his sword stuck in a tree? Who's the judge-y bloke in the background? Well, the trouble is that we don't know half of the answers but I think we can guess what he's been up to...

Innocents and Card Sharpers (undated) Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier
If you look on the right-hand side of The Wounded Cavalier, in amongst the undergrowth there are discarded playing cards.  Unless our russet-haired lovely was playing solitaire and minding his own business when he was attacked, I think we can agree he was probably playing cards and gambling.  There are quite a few paintings of Cavaliers playing cards and not usually very legally or well.  That well-known Cavalier painting should be known as the Gambling Cavalier rather than the Laughing Cavalier.  Actually, in my home town there is a pub called The Gay Cavalier, which was known in the 1980s as simply The Cavalier because it was the 1980s.  Thinking about it, we also had a shop called 'Gay Homes' in our shopping precinct so maybe I just grew up in a very gay town. How enlightened...

Cleaned Out (1868) John Pettie

Looking at the above painting, we again have the scattered cards after an unsuccessful game, denoting loss and anger.  This Cavalier looks a mixture of despondent, angry and devastated. Has he been the victim of card sharps or just incredibly unlucky? By the look of his face, this is not just tonight's money he has lost, not just his pockets that have been cleaned out, but he has lost everything.  No wonder the cards have been scattered...

The End of the Game of Cards (undated) Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier

When it stops being fun, stop playing.  There is no need for everyone to get stabby.  I almost picked this one for Stabvent but I was seduced, yet again, by my Wounded Cavalier. Images like this make me suspect that the gentleman who is 'cleaned out' is bent on revenge and destruction because gambling seems to get quite stabby, especially for Cavaliers. No-one likes a bad loser and even fewer people like a stabby loser.  I think we know what happened to our supine Royalist...

Whoever he was fighting, seems to have got him in the neck. I was always puzzled as to where he's been stabbed as he was wearing that armour, but by the angle of their hands, she is pressing sideways onto his neck and not on his shoulder, which would be armoured.  I wonder if that is a message that you are never as well-protected as you think? There doesn't seem to be any blood on her hanky, but he is a remarkably pale young man which leads me on to think how she found him.  If the Puritan pair - brother and sister? husband and wife? - have just come across him, was he like that when they found him or has she hauled him up across her lap in order to press a hanky to him? There is a bit of blood on the collar, but not enough to make you fear for his life.  I wonder if he was face down, then it would have run out of him quite quickly, so there wouldn't be much left for the hankie and that would account for how pale he seems.  Otherwise, it's all gone inside his armour and that will be very unpleasant when that comes off later. Sticky.

His broken sword stuck in the tree has layers of meaning.  On one level, he was obviously fighting, missed his opponent and struck the tree where it snapped off, leaving him without a weapon and stab-able.  Maybe he was stabbed and he hit the tree afterwards? The handle of the sword is just by his hand, as if he staggered on with the handle gripped in his hand before he collapsed. The sword is a metaphor for his luck, broken or his life, cut off.  Beautifully detailed, a tiny tortoiseshell butterfly is sitting on the blade.  Butterflies denote vanity, brevity, the soul and the transience of states. Did the vanity of our cavalier cause him to fight? His life has been cut off, abbreviated, and the butterfly is possibly his soul, paused for a moment on the instrument of his life and downfall before moving on.

Hidden in the ferns and brambles, behind his boots are his discarded cards and we can see hearts.  Does that denote the blood that he has lost, his heart that will stop?  Or are we looking at another reason he might have been stabbed which might also account for this chap's expression...?

This figure has always jarred with me because I forget he's there, so caught up am I in the romance of the Cavalier and the Puritan lass. He's lurking at the back with a face like thunder.  All the descriptions I have ever read suggest he is either the girl's husband and he is jealous of her attraction to the handsome, bleeding stranger or he is her brother and is feeling that Christian charity does not extend to floppy-collared wastrels who are sprawled on the floor. However, look at the broken sword - it looks like it is coming out of his flipping big Bible.  The brother (if that is who he is) probably would believe that God, in his infinity judgement, has struck down this unworthy, rather handsome, gambling sinner, but is there even more to it?  Has the man at the back had anything to do with the Cavalier's injury? Did he ambush the Royalist, knock him to the ground with his huge Bible and then stab him with something? We shall never know as Burton never gave any further detail or explanation and the painting was exhibited without much in the way of notes, yet it became his signature piece, the one people compared all his subsequent work to, and at his death in 1916, it was the painting mentioned first and foremost in his obituaries.

I'll leave you with a description from the Bicester Herald of two women viewing the painting in 1905, as it hung on the wall of the Guildhall Art Gallery (where you can still view it today):

The following remark, made by one woman to her neighbour as they passed, should serve to show that for once in a way the Eastender does not err in the direction of exaggerated statement. She gazed at the deathlike face for a moment, then remarked with the air of a connoisseur "Ow, don't 'e look ill!" There was no contradiction possible, and the pair passed on.

I'll catch you tomorrow... 


1 comment:

  1. I have always loved how detailed this painting is. I am not sure whether they are husband and wife because I can't see a ring, but I have always assumed they are romantically involved (I don't envy her because he looks no fun at all!). Cavaliers seem much more romantic than Puritans - all that flowing hair and lacy cuffs and collars. However, whoever the Puritan is, he is not engendering much Christian charity is he?
    Best wishes


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